Saturday, May 8, 2010


Shabbat Shalom! Having just read the title of this post, you are probably either salivating or scratching your head in confusion. If you're among the former, read on! I'm amazed by this recipe. It's AWESOME. If, however, "babka" looks to you like a made-up word, I (Emily) will tell you that it is a yeasted Lithuanian coffee cake. Its basic idea is sorta like a giant cinnamon roll, with a sweet filling in the middle of a sweet roll. But it is so much better than your basic sweet roll. As testament, I will point to the fact that I took the babka out of the oven around 10:30 PM on Thursday. At 8:30 PM on Friday, it was history.

I found this recipe in a great book called A Blessing of Bread: Recipes and Rituals, Memories and Mitzvahs--The Many Rich Traditions of Jewish Bread Baking Around the World. I slightly adapted the recipe for my own use, so I feel no guilt posting this, but I highly recommend the book. It's great for Jews and goyim alike (and if you have no idea what goyim are, that means you're one of them.)

I didn't actually take any pictures of the baking process (sorry!), so the finished product will have to suffice. Also, make this on a day when you have a lot of time around the house, because although there's not a ton of hands-on time, the total process takes 5-7 hours. And don't be intimidated by the length of the recipe; it's really quite simple. It just takes lots of explanation.

Ingredients (for 1 loaf/roll)
  • 4 TBS butter, softened (half a stick)
  • 3/4 milk (I used 1%, but anything should work. The higher the fat content, the richer the bread)
  • 1 TBS yeast
  • about 2 1/2- 3 cups all-purpose flour (white)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon, or 1/2 cinnamon stick, pulverized in a mortar and pestle (I tried this. it took forever, but it was fun, and the flavor was great. The picture's from about halfway through the process).
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1-2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 egg yolks (I know this sounds impossible, but since you need an egg glaze for the top it actually works out well. Crack an egg into a bowl and use a utensil, or your fingers, to break the yolk in half. Leave the other half of the yolk, along with the white, in the bowl, and refrigerate 'til needed for the glaze)
  • For the filling, use 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tsp. cinnamon sugar, 3 TBS cocoa powder, 3 TBS butter, and 1/2 cup each raisins and chocolate chips (optional but highly recommended)
  • Scald the milk by pouring it into a microwave-safe container and heating on high until it's steaming and little bubbles form around the edges. Let it cool until it's about the temperature of a warm bath.
  • In a large bowl, whisk the yeast and 3/4 cup of the flour together. Once the milk is cool enough, whisk it in 'til it's smooth. Now let it sit for 10-20 minutes. It'll get bubbly and very puffy. (If you're grinding your own cinnamon, this is a good time to do it.)
  • Mix the cinnamon and the sugar together and set aside 2 tsp. for the filling. Whisk the rest, along with the egg yolks and vanilla, into the yeast mix.
  • Add the rest of the flour, along with the butter (I found it easiest to chop the butter up a bit first). Mix 'till incorporated, then turn onto a lightly floured counter to knead (you won't need a lot of flour, most likely). It will be very soft and easy to knead, but keep going until it's smooth and even more elasticky, about 8-10 minutes. For instructions on how to knead, see this post.
  • Place in a clean bowl (which shouldn't need oil, since the bread is so oily), cover with plastic wrap and a towel, and let rise until doubled in volume. This will take 2- 2 1/2 hours, probably.
  • Just before shaping the loaves, make the filling by whisking the sugar, cinnamon sugar, and cocoa together in a medium bowl. Add the melted (and cooled) butter and whisk some more until smooth.
  • There are multiple ways to shape a babka loaf, but all of them involve spreading the filling around the middle of the dough and rolling it up like a carpet. For a loaf that resembles a thick, stout baguette roll the dough out into a rectangle-like shape about 1/4 inch thick. For the pinwheel-like shape I made, roll it into a circle-like shape about 1/8 inch thick.
  • If you're making the rectangle loaf, spread the filling over the whole surface of the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch border around the sides. If you're making the pinwheel, cut the circle in half and spread half of the filling on each piece, leaving the 1/2 inch border. (Whew. That's a lot of halves.) I found it easiest to use my hands for this, but you could try with a spatula. If the filling is too stiff, microwave it very briefly to soften it.
  • Sprinkle the raisins and chocolate chips on top of the filling. You could also add some nuts here, but I'm not a big fan.
  • This is the carpet rolling part. For the rectangle, take one of the long ends and loosely (gently) roll up the dough. For the pinwheel, roll each piece, loosely and gently, like a carpet, starting from the rounded edge and working towards the cut edge. You should have two thick snake-like rolls.
  • Once it's rolled, the dough should be soft enough that you can pinch the edge of the roll into itself, thus sealing it. Use a little water if you need to. Once it's sealed, press your hands lightly along the length of the roll, starting from the center and working towards the end, to eliminate air bubbles. Then pinch the ends together to seal them. Make sure they're tight!
  • For the rectangle, place seam-side down on a greased baking sheet.
  • For the pinwheel, your work is not done. Roll each snake-like piece around so that the middle gets thicker than the ends. The longer you can make these pieces, the prettier the pinwheel, but I didn't try that hard. Bending one piece in half, loop the middle over a chopstick (or something similar). Get a boyfriend (or whoever you happen to have about) to hold the chopstick and starting passing the two ends of the snake over and over each other so twists form. Don't tug the dough too hard! If you only get a few twists (like me) that's ok. Pull the chopstick out of the center and repeat with the other half. Then shape both pieces into "C" shapes. Set one of the pieces into a greased round baking pan and use the other to fill the middle of the first "C" and curve around the outside. If that's confusing, let me know in the comments and I'll try to clarify.
  • Now comes the waiting again. Cover the loaf with plastic wrap and the towel and let it sit for 2 1/2 hours, letting it rise.
  • Before baking, preheat the oven to 300°F and beat the egg you put in the fridge with a pinch of salt. (See, I told you it'd be useful!) Using a pastry brush, or a spatula if you don't have one, glaze the bread with the egg wash. If you don't use it all that's fine.
  • Bake for 50-60 minutes, turning the pan after 40 or so so it browns evenly. When the dough springs back when touched and the crust is a rich golden brown, it's done.
  • Let the loaf cool in the pan/on the tray for 10 minutes, then let finish cooling on a rack as long as you can stand to wait.

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